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Aug 14 2012

Free Thinking – The Pace of Modern Life

by Pascale Vaillancourt

The whole world and everything in it is speeding up, moving so fast it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Are we too slow, or is the world changing too quickly?

the pace of life

The 21st century has brought a truly accelerated pace. We’re certainly living longer, but our daily lives are overloaded. We’ve gone from travelling on horseback to flying at supersonic speeds. Text messages have replaced love letters in the mailbox. In the early days of television, commercial breaks were broadcast live. Today, we zap through “empty” moments as if every second had to be filled with relevant information. From country farmers working the land and caring for their farms and animals, we’ve become sedentary people eating junk food, becoming inevitably fatter and fatter.

But why are we running?

Where are we going?

Books and articles addressing the theme of “slowness” are being published at an unbelievable rapid pace. We’re bombarded by messages touting the importance of living in the present moment and criticisms are frequent on how we live. It’s only natural that we end up questioning the breakneck pace of modern life.

Why does everything have to move so fast? Speed is a measurement of something in relation to the passing of time. Acceleration is an increase in that thing during a set period. Time remains constant in that equation. What changes is the distance covered, the amount of information accumulated, or the number of things done. Time itself hasn’t changed. There are still24 hours in a day. Movement requires a driving force or some kind of energy to get from point A to point B. In this case, we are the driving force—our bodies, minds, and emotions. So where do we get this desire to go farther, faster?

We can think about acceleration from two basic points of view. The first is our own nature, in other words, what we are and what motivates us. As human beings, we spend our lives striving for more, seeking to define ourselves in a world that blends speed with performance. We’re born, then we learn to walk, run, and ride a bike. Childhood is a series of milestones marking our ability to move faster towards adulthood. It’s fun at first, but then it becomes a duty, and that’s when the problem starts! Being a kid means «wasting time» daydreaming, and bursting out laughing over the silliest things. It means always seeing the world with a fresh eye and a sense of wonder.

We can also consider our life experience. We grow in a world where everything moves very fast. Instant gratification now rules, and the race to modernity is leading to a society where those who can’t keep up are just left behind. We’re flooded with emails and buried under a mountain of spams. Our phones are only good for confirming that our message has been received and will be responded to shortly. The speed of progress means everything quickly becomes obsolete. But the era of disposable consumables is, hopefully, coming to an end. Satisfying our basic needs has turned into a cycle of manufacturing desires and appeasing them immediately, because in a moment it will all be obsolete or, worse, eclipsed by another, even more futile craving.

Our attention span has been whittled down by the myriad interruptions that arise during the day. Whatever content manages to enter our conscience only lasts a few seconds before it’s time to move on to the next trend. We are drowned in a sea of data we didn’t ask for. How can our brains deal with all that? Have we even considered that? And what about our bodies? Our hearts?

Can we get this furious pace under control? After all, isn’t this progress? Why should we stroll when the whole world is running? Illnesses related to being over-worked are on the rise in modern society. Without enough time to ourselves, how can we have any for others? It’s important to stop sometimes, not just to rest, but also to take a break before moving on to another, better destination and to create harmony between human nature and the planet on which we live. Appreciate stillness and get a better understanding of the options based on your basic needs. Make room for silence and create a space for the melodies of life. Take the time to arrive, lay down your burden, and give yourself some room. Take time to make clear choices based on our individual desires when faced with the unending stream of options that comes with each new day. Block out the noise of the bombardment of advertising, kick your virtual addiction, express your feelings with something other than instant messaging emoticons and really reach out to the people around you, who can join you on the path to a different world. A sensible, thoughtful, and slower paced world. We have to slow down in order to think about the future and leave the next generation with a world that is more balanced and in better harmony with life.

Rosa, Hartmut, Accélération,une critique sociale du temps, Éditions La Découverte, Paris 2010
Servan-Schreiber, Jean-Louis, Trop vite!, Éditions Albin Michel, Paris 2010

About the author

Pascale loves words, books, emotions, and life. She marvels at the world, observing it to find and flesh out stories that inspire her. She’s also a nature lover. She has been indulging her love of writing for several years, taking creative writing courses at university.

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